• Leading business executive’s new Range Rover hijacked in Joburg last week; dumped in the bush
• Standard Chartered Bank requires car-tracking system installation in all new cars they finance
• Police warn this is a crisis – 12 Botswana cars stolen between November and December in Gauteng province; situation worse in January
The numbers of motor vehicle theft cases and hijackings in Botswana and on Botswana registration numbers in South Africa continue to rise, week after week. According to recent statistics from the Criminal Investigation Department’s (CID) motor vehicle theft division last week starting the 19th of January ending 25 January 2015, nine cars were reported stolen in the country.
Of recent scores of Batswana who had for one reason or the other taken a road trip to South Africa, especially in the Gauteng area driving their cars, returned home empty handed. It is becoming increasingly clear that Botswana registration numbers are now the target of car jackers and motor vehicle thieves in South Africa.
The modus operandi for this hijacking differs according to individuals. While some are attacked right in the centres of cities and towns, others are attacked in freeways, whilst driving to and out of the South Africa.
Police have over the time stated that the lucrative black market for stolen vehicles is active as far as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia.
Upon describing the current situation of Motor vehicle theft in Botswana and on Batswana-owned cars in South Africa, Assistant Superintendent Joshua Ntau of Motor Vehicle Theft Unit simply said it was a crisis. In Botswana, Ntau said hijackers target Corollas, Mazda 3 and Runx cars while in South Africa the victims’ profiles vary from cheap Japanese imports to luxurious SUVs.
Recently, local businesspersons have been the target of a hijacking syndicate which is said to be operating from within Botswana and South Africa. The syndicate is alleged to be so organised and networked that it is becoming clear that in most cases they seem to have gathered information about their targets. Their recent targets have been the luxurious Range Rovers and BMW X5s. The targets, it has emerged, are prominent business people whom they attack on their way to or from South Africa. Four such cases are said to have been so far reported.
It is perhaps worth noting that one other prominent Motswana who once fell victim to car hijackers in South Africa is former Botswana ambassador to the United States Tebelelo Seretse.
The incident occurred in September 2009 on the N4 toll road between Rustenburg and Swartruggens. The suspects were arrested near Lenasia South while driving to Johannesburg in 2011. They had been on the run for almost two years. The two suspects are said to have been driving a car with police blue lights and wearing police camouflage. They held her at gunpoint and took her vehicle and all the goods that were in it.
The Patriot on Sunday logistics officer, Boyce Modise also fell victim to a hijacking ploy late last year whilst in South Africa to collect the weekly edition of this publication. According to Modise, his attackers - a young woman and a man - posed as just bystanders near traffic lights but immediately forced their way into his car at gunpoint as he stopped for a red traffic light. They then took over and drove off with him to a secluded area, upon which they were joined by a group of people who beat him up, searched his car and took all that was inside. Modise’s abductors decided to let him go in the morning, the following day without taking the car. They took his money, cellular phone and some documents.
Modise said that when he reported the case to the nearest police station, the officers who were on duty shrugged off the matter, telling him to consider himself lucky as some victims were usually humiliated, gang raped or in some cases abandoned in the wilderness.
Apparently Modise’s ordeal and experience with South African Police is a common experience among victims. According to Assistant Superintendent Ntau, most Batswana who fall victim to motor vehicle theft and hijackings report their cases to ordinary police stations mostly in areas where the crime took place. Police officers in these stations, he said, in most cases fail to handle this type of cases as cross border crimes, hence it takes time for the matter to be attended to. The rightful office which currently deals with cross border crimes is in Pretoria, he revealed.
Motor vehicle theft cases are also reportedly on the increase. Most of those who fall victim to this kind of crimes report that their vehicles were taken just minutes after parking them, mostly at shopping complexes. “Some of the victims told us that they had been gone for less than 20 minutes only to find their cars stolen when they returned,” said Ntau.
Criminals who engage in cross border motor vehicle theft and hijackings, according to Ntau are usually sophisticated syndicates who keep changing their modus operandi, targets and spots to hijack their motorists.
In some of the cases they are said to have used cars donning Botswana genuine registration numbers which were also hijacked or stolen by the syndicate. In other cases they are said to have used fake Botswana registration numbers on their hit cars in order to make it easy for Botswana motorists to stop for them thinking they are fellow Batswana.
Of recent the syndicates have also targeted Botswana trucks which ferry consignments from South Africa. The modus operandi in all 11 cases of truck theft that the Botswana Police Service had been informed of according to Ntau is similar. “What happens is that a ‘supposed’ customer would call a truck owner/company locally claiming they have a consignment to be collected in South Africa, they will even pay an upfront deposit so the truck is dispatched, but then they will hijack the truck the moment it reaches the said place,” said Ntau.
Ntau says three of the trucks had been intercepted at different locations in and outside South Africa. “One was intercepted on its way to Mozambique by South African police at the border, while one was intercepted at the Zimbabwean border, and another one was recovered somewhere in Zimbabwe,” said Ntau.
He warned that what was exacerbating these particular crimes was the fact that more than 90 percent of the cars stolen were not equipped with security devices. “It is worrying that most Batswana would prefer to spend so much money on buying a car but fail to part with just a little bit for security measures, most of the cars do not even have alarms and mobilisers,” he said.
Ntau says though ordinary motor vehicle theft is on the rise, hijacking cases in South Africa went down due to with the cooperation of the SAPS's Anti Hijacking Unit. The unit launched an undercover operation to take down these criminal elements which were in the Gauteng area a few years ago.
Botswana High Commissioner in Pretoria Zenene Sinombe also confirmed that indeed the numbers of hijackings and motor vehicle theft of Batswana cars in South Africa were on the increase. According to Sinombe, although Japanese imports cars used to be the criminals’ target, of recent luxurious cars are now topping the list. “It is a pertinent issue that we are currently dealing with. The High Commission is working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Relations to at least find a way of alerting and warning Batswana of this without denting our diplomatic relations with our South African counterparts,” he said.
Sinombe says so far their records indicate that on average, three cars are stolen a month in either Pretoria or Johannesburg. Twelve cars were stolen in the Gauteng Province between November and December. In January, he said, the number of cars stolen in Johannesburg that were reported at their Johannesburg consulate has doubled. According to the High Commissioner, the numbers maybe higher as some individuals usually report at the nearest police station and return back to Botswana without informing his office.
Sinombe also bemoaned that it seems Botswana cars were nowadays easily targeted because the criminals have realised that most Batswana have not installed their vehicles with tracking devices. He, however, indicated that his South African counterparts were assisting the high commission whenever they needed their assistance.
In response to this spate of hijackings, one of the local banks, Standard Bank has added a new requirement in vehicle financing saying it requires car-tracking system installation in all new cars they finance.